With Zika virus in the news and on the rise, many people are rightfully concerned about the impact of this virus, wondering how it will affect them and their families. Although it’s generating a constant and continuous buzz, it’s hard to decipher the accurate from the inaccurate information. To ease some of the fears and concerns about the subject, I have compiled a formal FAQ that will hopefully provide insight into and comfort regarding Zika…
What is Zika virus, exactly?
Zika virus is a viral infection that is primarily transmitted through two different species of mosquitos. Zika may also be transmitted through sexual contact with a person who already has the virus, even if the infected person isn’t experiencing symptoms.
People infected by Zika typically experience mild illness for up to a week. In fact, many people remain asymptomatic (symptom-free) after contracting the virus.
When did Zika virus first appear?
The virus was initially identified in monkeys living in Uganda in 1947, and later on in humans in both Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania in 1952. However, the first mass outbreak of a disease caused by Zika virus occurred in 2007.
There are now outbreaks across the Americas and Africa, including Miami and three United States territories (American Samoa, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands). Those with any upcoming travel plans should check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website to ensure there is no threat of Zika at their destination.
What are the symptoms of Zika virus?
Those who have Zika and are not asymptomatic may experience the following:
- Joint or muscle pain
- Reddening of the eyes (conjunctivitis)
Testing to determine the presence of Zika should be during the first week following the initial onset of symptoms. Testing is key as the symptoms Zika presents with may be indistinguishable from other mosquito-borne illnesses, such as dengue or chikungunya viruses (all are spread by the same species of mosquitos).
How do I know if I have Zika virus?
Those who are concerned that they have Zika virus should contact their healthcare provider as there are currently blood and urine tests available for detecting the presence of the virus. However, it should be noted that no cure currently exists for the infection.
Speak to a physician immediately about getting tested if you:
- Recently traveled to an area with a confirmed outbreak
Remember, the faster you’re diagnosed, the faster you can avoid spreading it to others.
What tests are available to confirm Zika virus infection?
Although laboratory tests are available through the CDC, the turnaround time for results has reached up to a four-week delay due to the lack of facilities being able to perform the tests. To aid in this, the CDC has allowed for EUA (Emergency Use Authorization) detection assays, that private labs can use—such as MedLabs Diagnostics—to act as an additional force in aiding the diagnosis and prevention of Zika virus.
What do I do if I’ve contracted Zika virus?
As there currently is no medication or vaccine to prevent or treat the viral infection, those experiencing symptoms are encouraged to treat the symptoms themselves (e.g., taking Tylenol® to reduce fever or get rid of a headache). It is also recommended to get plenty of rest and stay hydrated. Thankfully, Zika is a short-lived infection.
It should be noted however that the infection—though rare— has also been linked to the development of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a neurological condition in which the immune system attacks and damages nerve cells in the body. This results in muscle weakness and paralysis with the effects lasting weeks or even months.
What do I need to know about Zika during pregnancy?
Zika virus can be passed from mother to fetus with potentially devastating effects. The most notable is a birth defect known as microcephaly, a condition in which the baby is born with a head size that is smaller than babies of the same sex and age. Children born with this condition may also have brains that have not developed properly.
In addition to microcephaly, other conditions have been linked to fetuses and infants who have tested positive for Zika virus, such as impaired growth, hearing loss and vision impairment.
Those who are pregnant and are concerned they may have contracted the virus should contact a healthcare provider as soon as possible to be tested. For those who live in an area where the outbreak is active and are planning to become pregnant, it is strongly recommended to delay pregnancy plans until the outbreak is under control.
How do I avoid getting Zika virus?
The best proactive measure to prevent infection is to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, especially for those who have traveled to or currently live in an area where Zika is present. Prevention can be achieved with the following guidelines:
- Remove any and all standing water from the property as mosquitoes lay their eggs both in and near the water. This includes bird baths and other outdoor décor, equipment or children’s toys
- Remain in well-screened or air-conditioned housing. If sleeping outdoors, sleep beneath a mosquito bed net
- Use mosquito repellent and reapply as directed
- Be completely covered when traveling outside. Make sure to wear long sleeves, long pants, socks and shoes
Aside from mosquito bites (and traveling to outbreak areas), it is important to remember that Zika virus may also be transmitted through sexual contact. This includes all manners of sex, including vaginal, anal, oral and the sharing of sex toys.
Zika virus may be sexually transmitted from person to person even if the infected person:
- Has yet to experience symptoms
- Is currently experiencing symptoms
- Already had symptoms that have since dissipated
If engaging in intercourse, always use a condom or other protective barrier—such as a dental dam—to avoid contracting (or transmitting) Zika virus.